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Climate Change & Disaster Planning

The effects of climate change can be felt no matter where you live. Longer and more intense tropical storms, flooding and sea level rise, strong winds and wildfires, extreme heat, and other weather-related events are becoming a more common occurrence in everyday life. In 2023, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation released their Policy Statement on Climate Change and Historic Preservation, recognizing that climate change is a factor we must consider when planning for the preservation and protection of historic places. The Policy Statement leads off by asserting “America’s historic properties–important places that help to define and connect people to their communities–are experiencing escalating climate impacts that are increasingly leading to their damage and destruction.”  

In 2023, unprecedented flooding in Vermont caused the closure of several historic sites, and wildfires destroyed over 1,000 buildings in the Lahaina Historic District on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Preservation advocates, property owners, municipal and state governments, and developers all face the same dilemma: how can we prepare old and historic buildings to withstand the effects of climate change? 

While it’s impossible to protect historic resources from all natural disasters, steps can be taken to mitigate the effects of climate change. Preserve RI has compiled a collection of resources related to this topic that not only addresses the realities of global climate issues and their effect on historic resources, but also how to prepare for the variety of natural disasters that we now experience more regularly. Hazard mitigation planning is critical, as it considers all scenarios from fire to sea level rise, and how to plan for both the short-term and long-term.  

Preservation advocates must also make the case and communicate that when it comes to sustainable solutions to help combat climate change, the adaptive reuse of existing buildings is a proven green practice. According to Architecture 2030, a nonprofit research organization that studies the relationship between buildings and climate issues, the built environment is responsible for about 42% of annual global CO2 emissions and “building reuse represents a significant opportunity to avoid carbon emissions in the critical near term.” They have even developed a tool for easily calculating the carbon benefits of rehabbing and reusing existing buildings. So while plans are made to protect our historic resources from natural disasters, it is important to remember that value of existing buildings in the overall fight against climate change. 

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